Technology, what a great thing, right? How many times have you said to yourself, “What on earth would I do without my Smart Phone?” Or maybe something like, “It would be hard to imagine life without computers and tablets!” In the business and professional world, having this type of technology at our fingertips actually puts money in our pocket and food on our table. Huge business deals are made every second through the use of the internet, and timeless communication takes place between individuals, families and corporations across the world 24/7. In my house, where there are two home offices running daily, if the internet goes down, the computer runs slow, the printer jams or we have some sort of computer glitch, alarms go off as if the world is coming to an end. Does this sound familiar?
If you had to guess, how much screen time do you and your family use each day? It’s a personal question, but one that you should really stop and think about with summer headed your way and the fact that your kids are going to have a lot of free time on their hands. What do I mean by “Screen time”? It is a term used for activities done in front of a screen, such as watching TV, working on a computer or tablet, playing video games, streamlining movies and being on Facebook, and now includes doing all of these said activities on your Smart Phone.
Here’s the bad news…screen time is sedentary activity, meaning you are being physically inactive while doing it. Participating in screen time requires very little physical effort, therefore uses minimal energy. Did you know that research now shows that overactive screen time can be addictive and over time can cause harmful mental and physical health issues for you and your children? Uh oh…now I’m really getting in your personal business. So put down your Smart Phone and listen up.
Here are some alarming statistics regarding on average screen time among American children and families (American Academy of Pediatrics, www.education.com, National Institutes of Health, University of Michigan):
- Children ages 2-5 spend 32 hours a week in front of a movie or TV show
- Children ages 6-11 spend 28 hours a week doing the same activity
- Children ages 8-18 spend 13.2 hours per week playing video games on their phones, tablets and through the TV
- 36% of children ages 0-6 have watched a video game and/or played a video game
- 71% of children ages 8-18 have a TV located in their bedroom
- 56% of households who have children in 7th – 12th grade don’t have any established rules about TV watching in their home or cell phone and computer activity
- Americans as a whole spend 9 hours every day engaging in digital media
- Teens today are coined as “digital natives” using their cell phones to send an average of 60 texts per day
- Over 2 million children across the country under the age of 8 years old own an iPad
- More than 2/3 of daycare centers across the US use the TV as an activity during the day
Oh my! After researching this topic, I really had to examine my own personal screen time. It was a real eye opener for me and made me realize that if not careful, we as humans can forfeit some important brain time, family time, parenting skills, spousal time, employer paid time and relationship building time for the “almighty digital screen”. Clearly this activity can be a time sucker, but what can too much screen time possibly be doing to hurt our children?
I am going to break it down for you in the following categories: physical, mental and social development using current information from the American Academy of Pediatrics as well as research outcomes reported in Psychology Today magazine.
- Makes it hard for your child to sleep and night causing sleep deprivation
- Raises your child’s risk of becoming obese due to lack of movement
- Can create Computer Vision Syndrome – a severe eye strain disorder
- Can increase their chances of experiencing progressive Myopia or near-sightedness
- Raises your child’s risk of experiencing attention problems
- Can create sensory overload or “electronic screen syndrome”
- May add anxiety to their day
- Can cause unexpected depression
- Affects functional changes in brain regions that involve emotional processing, executive attention, decision-making and cognitive control
Social Development Damage
- It can inhibit their ability to recognize emotions
- It can slow down their social skill development (By age 6 children begin to interact outside the family and need a baseline for these skills)
- Too much texting and social media replaces face to face interaction and depletes communication skills
- It reduces face to face communication which can affect them as adult workers
As parents I believe it is time we step back and take a closer look at our screen time behavior and recognize any addictions. It may be time to purge the unnecessary time sucking activities, cut back a little and together as a family go on a healthy “Digital Media Diet”.
- Establish and agree to screen time guidelines for the entire family. Keep in mind that children under age 2 should have no screen time and ages 2 and up should limit their screen time to 1 to 2 hours per day
- Sit down with your kids and come up with a list of fun activities that can replace their existing screen time usage – activities that they enjoy and that require some movement
- Remove the TV and/or computer from your child’s bedroom – put the computer in a general location where you can observe their activity and check the history often
- Do not allow watching TV during meals or while doing homework
- Don’t leave the TV on for background noise, use a radio or ceiling fan instead
- Set a time limit and schedule for computer usage and TV watching and stick to it
- For a summer project, have each child keep a journal of their fun activities each day including how they met their goal of using digital screen time. Reward them at the end of the week.
- Decide which programs are allowed ahead of time and post this schedule on the fridge
- Make a rule that all iPads and cell phones must be stationed in the kitchen while not in use and definitely at night when time for bed
- Talk about safety and what is allowed and what is not. Depending on the age of your child, you should be concerned about what is exactly coming across all screens at different times of the day and night in the form of texts, photos, videos and posts
- Practice what you preach and be a good role model. Limit your own screen time to 2 hours a day and show that it can be done and is important for everyone’s health and well being
And my last bit of advice is simple…use common sense. Is it really important for your child to have a cell phone and tablet under the age of 14? And if you have already done so, don’t you think you should set some serious guidelines on how much time they should be spending on these devices in order to grow into happy, healthy productive adults?
Parenting can sometimes be uncomfortable, especially when we have to change our own behavior to model something for our children. My summer commitment is to limit my time on Facebook during the week and to not have my cell phone out in restaurants when I am having a meal with friends and family. I hope to shed a few digital media pounds myself!
I hope you will join me in this digital diet and share this advice with someone you love. They will thank you…later!